A Strong Tree
"Class, I have a question for you. Which information did Moshe Rabbeinu asks the spies to gather?"
"What sort of people live in the land? Strong or weak? Many or few?"
"Very good, Ze'evi."
"What type of cities do the people live in?"
"Does that land have good water sources - wells and cisterns?"
"Is the land fertile or lean?"
"Does the land have trees?"
"That is what the verse (Bamidbar 13:20) says, Rebbe."
"Think about that a moment, Chaim. Rav Zalman Sorotzkin asks the following questions. Is there any land without trees? Furthermore, in the very same verse, Moshe Rabbeinu instructs them to bring back some of the fruits of the land. If he was not sure if the land had trees, how could he tell them to bring back fruit?"
"Hmmm. That is a problem. Wait a minute! I see that Rashi answers this question. The 'tree' is a righteous man, whose deeds protect the people of his generation."
"Excellent, Chaim. The verse cannot be understood on a simple level. Therefore Rashi is quotes the Gemora (Bava Basra 15a) which darshens the verse. The righteous deeds of the tsaddik are like the branches of a tree. Just as the branches protect those around them by providing shade, so too the deeds of the tsaddik protect those around him from hardship and danger. Now, I have another question for the class. Is there another place in the Torah where a man is compared to a tree?" The class is silent for a few moments.
"I know! The mitzvah of not cutting down a tree during a siege of a city! The verse refers to man as 'a tree of the field!'"
"Amazing, Avi. You really know the Chumash. This is a mitzvah at the end of parashas Shoftim. The verse states, 'When you besiege a city…do not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them, for from it you will eat, and you will not cut it down. Is the tree of the field man…?' The Gemora (Taanis 7a) also finds this verse difficult to understand on a simple level. Therefore it darshens that a man is like a tree. They both produce fruit. The proper talmid chochom is like a tree whose fruits are his Divrei Torah. You shall eat from him (i.e. study his Divrei Torah) and not cut him down (i.e. shun him). We see that this comparison of a man to a tree has deep roots."
"How do we understand it, Rebbe?"
"The tree draws nourishment from its roots, and uses that nourishment to produce branches, leaves, and fruits. The roots are in the ground, and the branches reach up to the heavens. The man is similar. His 'roots' are his neshama (soul). His 'branches and fruits' are his deeds. The proper talmid chochom is like an upside- down tree. His roots are in the heavens because his soul comes from Hashem Himself. He draws his nourishment from the spiritual world - from learning Hashem's Holy Torah. His branches are his deeds down here in this world. They 'cast the shade' that protects him and those around him.* Now I have another question. Which chapter of Tehillim compares a tsaddik to a tree?"
"Number 92! The Song of Shabbos! 'A tsaddik will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in Lebanon he will grow tall. Planted in the house of Hashem, in the courtyards of The Almighty they will flourish. They will sill be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be.'"
"Great, Shabsi! What are the "fruits" of a talmid chochom? His Divrei Torah, his halachic rulings, his words of inspiration. If he is planted in the Beis Hashem, in the courtyards of The Almighty, he will flourish. He will continue to produce fruits well into his old age. Where is the Beis Hashem? Rabbeinu Yona explains that if you plant little children in the right place - i.e. the Talmud Torah and the Yeshiva - when they are young, they will continue to be fat and juicy - with Torah - and full of energy even when they are old."
"Rebbe, we are in the Beis Hashem!"
"That is brilliant, Naftoli! This is it - the best place for you to be 'planted' right now! This is where you receive the 'nourishment' of Torah. This is where your roots grow big and strong. This is where you become a beautiful tree, full of luscious fruit. This is the Beis Hashem, the courtyard of The Almighty! Soak up the words of Torah and grow big and strong!"
Kinderlach . . .
Did you ever see a big, strong tree? Its roots go deep into the ground. Its trunk is thick. Its strong branches reach majestically upwards to the heavens. Its fruits are plentiful and sweet. It provides nourishment and shade for all those close to it. So too the tsaddik. He is deeply rooted in Torah. His mind is always thinking Torah thoughts. His teachings help us to understand Hashem's Holy Torah. His halachic rulings keep us on the straight path. His words of mussar and Yiras Shomayim inspire us to reach for the sky. We gain nourishment from his Torah. His merciful acts of chessed protect us all. He is the mighty tree and we gain from him. Kinderlach, you too can be a tsaddik, a mighty tree. Now is the time to begin. Now your are planted in the Beis Hashem, the courtyard of The Almighty. Now is your time to learn and grow, learn and grow. B'ezras Hashem you will sprout and develop into a big, strong beautiful tree. And we will all enjoy your fruits for many, many years to come.
(*See the booklet "Shaar Mitzion" on Tu B'Shvat for further explanation.)
Which korbon received three esronim solet, with ½ hin of oil, and ½ hin of wine? Two esronim solet, with 1/3 hin of oil, and 1/3 hin of wine? One esaron solet, with ¼ hin of oil, and ¼ hin of wine? (15:5-10)
How is the gematria of tzitzis related to the number of mitzvos? (Rashi 15:39)
How did the spies die? (14:37 and Rashi)
What is the meaning of "Chai Ani?" (Rashi 14:21)
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